An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hissy Cat Becomes the Victim of Fights in Multi-Cat Household: Felice

Dear Greyce,

Raisin, Felice and Schatzi: When Times Were Good
I am a stunning, nine-year-old spayed Sphynx (that's me in the top right corner of the photo) who is terribly insecure and is being picked on by other cats in the household. This can occur at any time of the day or night and in any place in the house!  On Herself's bed. In 'my' room (the spare bedroom). In the kitchen near the food dishes. On the scratching post. On the stairs. You name it, I'm fair game. Both of the other cats have scratched me and I don't have much protection in the way of fur. Believe me, I don't like them being around me! 

A few weeks ago, things escalated. In the middle of the night, Raisin attached me viciously. And now the other cat, Rufus, is back at it, too. 

It got so bad that Herself separated me from the rest of the group - and then felt guilty about that. (I also detest not being on the bed with her at night - because the bed is where everyone else congregates. That meant it could be the scene for fights. Or, if I were separated out, she could hear my incessant cat opera at the indignity of it all. Somehow this doesn't seem to mix well with her need for sleep.)

In the interests of keeping me protected I'm living with a neighbour as an only-cat, until a new plan of action can be developed.

So Greyce, why does everyone pick on me so much especially since I don't ever attack them? Do you think I might just be one of those cats who should be an only-cat? What on earth happened?

I know you need more information. So let me tell you more about myself and how wonderful I truly am, before I get to the bullies.

I arrived in this home about five years ago. It was a bit of a crazy time: the move, the death of one of the household cats, the arrival of another purrson with his cat whom I detested, and a traffic accident that left me with a broken pelvis. Quite a landmark year!

I adore and very much miss my main purrson (male) who is away at college. When he is home, we spend lots of time together cuddling. I walk all over him and and purr and drool. I can get annoyed with him, though - for no particular reason. I'm just like that.

I am in the care of his mom and I do accept Herself. I like when she sings to me. She gives me a fair amount of attention but not as much as I was used to getting before Raisin (another cat) came on the scene. And not as much as I would get from Himself (that college guy). She takes me outside sometimes but always brings me back in before I want to go in.

Frankly I can be temperamental even with my favourite people, though not as much with Herself. (I seem to prefurr females and respond well to female voices). By temperamental I mean I get growly and start to hiss. However I like to be near people, wherever they are, and will ride on shoulders. Like most of my breed, I prefurr people to those of my own species and am capable of forming a very strong bond with one very special purrson. When I miss my purrson, I drag stuffed animals throughout the house and deposit them in random places; then I pretend like I have no idea how they got there. 

Also true to my breed, I am curious and very intelligent, and enjoy high places and warm places, too.

I like to jump and play and chase things, both inside and outside of the house. My favourite indoor toy is a  Cat Dancer which requires a human on the other end of the wire; but I don't get played with often enough - probably only 10 minutes a day and part of this is because there is a new attention hog: a Siamese kitten called Raisin. 

I enjoy the outdoors but refuse to be leashed so I can only go out when I am supervised - which means I don't get to go outside for long periods of time. Once - five years ago - I was let out and forgotten, got hit by a car and broke my pelvis. 

Given my sparse fur, I only go outside when the weather is warm and nice. I love warm sidewalks and will roll around on them. Purrhaps I would like an enclosure?

There IS one other creature in the household with whom I get along: Schatzi, a female dachshund-mix who is affectionate and knows that we cats are the heads of the household. She gets along well with us all. She does not bother me and we just live and let live. 

Basically I don't like other cats. I will growl and hiss even when I just see them, but I do not fight. And this leads to problems because there are two other cats in the household.

The Bullies

There is Rufus, a neutered, orange tabby of eight years of age who joined the household as a kitten. He does not enjoy being petted much beyond the head area, although he is very slowly getting used to being touched in other places BUT absolutely NOT his paws. He is curious about new people and can be friendly with them, unless they pet him in the WRONG spot.

He doesn't do play but loves catnip and the scratching posts. He goes outside and is an excellent hunter.

He hangs around doorways on the floor, on Herself's bed and at the top of the tallest scratching post. At night he lies in Herself's bed, near the foot, right up against her.

He has had a history of attacking me, which is why Herself acquired a Siamese-mix as a potential playmate for him. It was a partial solution. However said Siamese was re-homed three months ago. 

Rufus scratches and hisses if something does not please him. He attacks me, unprovoked and that seems to go in waves. All it takes is for him to see me. He usually doesn't stalk. Sometimes he leaves me alone but usually only when Raisin (the other cat) is picking on me. It's like they have agreed to take turns, except when they both decide to be mean. 

Then there is Raisin, the newest kid on the block: a neutered Siamese who is now 9 months old. Like Rufus, he joined us as a kitten. We were introduced to him over a period of two weeks: he was separated for about a week (and slept with Herself in the spare room) and was let out to explore the rest of the house when we were kept away. Then we saw one another through a crack in the door. All seemed well so he was then let out.

Like those of his breed he is very energetic and curious and follows Herself all over the house. He likes people a lot.  He is not too mouthy - as far a Siamese go. 

He loves to fetch the stick with the string and with chase and fetch indefatigably. He likes fishing-pole-type toys and likes to play while his head is inside a bag; and he also plays on the scratching post. He loves to jump after toys and can jump about four feet up a wall. Herself plays with him quite a bit because he is so energetic and insistent. And he sleeps with Herself.

He attacks me and sometimes stalks me as well. Sometimes he will completely ignore me. He used to play with me but I don't want to anymore because of how he treats me. He started picking on me about a week and a half ago.

To be honest there were others in my household, but they have since left. There was that neutered male Siamese-mix who was re-homed about three months ago. There was also an adult Siamese-cross who was always ill and died five years ago; and a Siamese-cross who was extremely benevolent, very elderly and died about two years ago.The latter two were no problem for me at all.

About My Purrsons

I've told you about my main folks: Himself, the college guy, and Herself, my current caregiver. There are two other sons who visit but do not live with us: One I detest. I growl loudly if he so much as says my name. He pets me but I hate it. The other, moved in with his cat (whom I detested); but they moved out about five years ago, shortly before that Siamese died. I got along fine with him - just not his cat.

Right now, to keep me safe, I am staying with a male neighbour. He is away at work most times. He doesn't engage me in play but pets me a lot and lets me jump on him, walk all over him, sit on him, and sleep with him. Frankly, it's a bit lonely BUT I am safe.

Our House

I live in a two-storey house with bedrooms on the top floor and the usual (living, dining, kitchen and bath) on the main. There is a finished basement but a tenant lives down there and there is a divider to separate it.

We have five litter boxes in various rooms on the upper floor. We have three food dishes on two different sides of the kitchen counter; we get wet food twice a day and are free-fed dry. Our water dishes are on the toilet lids (both floors) and there is a dog water dish on the floor and a dish of water next to our food dishes.

We have three scratch pads (dining room, stair landing); three scratch posts (upstairs hall, living room, kitchen); and a big cat tree in the living room. We have cat beds on two radiators (one in kitchen and one in living room), two more beds on the living room floor in front of the wood stove (which I enjoy IF no one bothers me there); and a covered cat bed upstairs in the spare bedroom. I really like the covered cat bed.

So Greyce, I've given you a lot of information and now I need your advice. 


Dear Felice,

What's a stunning cat like you doing in a situation like this? It has taken me a while to sort out the players and the chronology because, as you well know, it's complicated. What you have told me, says a lot. Still I'm left with more questions. But don't worry, I have some suggestions as well.

Let's start with the suggestions.

A cat such as yourself basically has two choices. Stay or leave.

If you choose to stay, then we have a LOT of work to do.

You seem to be in a home that has a lot of resources (posts, litter boxes and the like). Yet you lack safe spaces because there are two bullies involved. If there was only one, we could work on ways to give you safe spaces with two, different escape routes. But with two bullies, it's back to the drawing board and time-sharing looks like it comes into the picture.

You mention that Rufus and you have had problems for quite some time - problems that now re-homed Siamese was supposed to resolve. So I'm asking, how long have the problems between Rufus and you been going on? What do they look like? How do they start? How do they end? What does Herself do? 

I'd also like to know more about that re-homed Siamese: How long was he with you. How did he partially solve your problem? Why was he re-homed?

You will note that I'm not asking any questions about the other son's cat who temporarily lived with you - because it seems to me that it was a clear case of territorial invasion. Though I must admit that I was surprised at the seeming lack of intervention on the part of the humans in the household. But purrhaps I don't know the whole story.

I also suspect that because Raisin was introduced to Rufus and yourself relatively quickly, it may have created tensions amongst you three (undetected by humans) that resulted in the most recent eruptions. The stress of adapting to a new critter can certainly do that.

I suspect that one - and only one - of the problems is that there is no fight prevention, likely because Herself doesn't understand cat signalling and so cannot figure out when a fight is about to break out. By the time the fight is in full force, it is too late. She needs to put a system in place to head it off before it starts. Moreover, I doubt that any of you have learned that there are undesirable consequences.(Have a look at my entry, Helping Cats to Get Along, 02/02/13).

You say you only hiss and growl and then get attacked for no reason. Hissing is a form of defensive aggression - meaning you feel threatened and are trying to ward it off. But fights suggest one of two things: 1) either you are not the kind of cat who backs down and slinks off defeated before the fight begins and neither are Rufus or Raisin, so things then escalate when they don't pay attention to your hisses and growls; or 2) you have been cornered in such a way that there is no escape and so you become the victim. Each of these has different solutions which is why I need more information from you about that nature of these fights: their beginnings, what they look like, and how they end (including Herself's role).

At present, you are on your way to becoming the household pariah - a cat who becomes the victim of all the other cats in the household. Such cats lives become increasing constricted and absolutely miserable unless we can determine a way to change the behaviour of the other cats. Those changes involve an understanding of cat signalling, reinforcing good behaviour and using appropriate (though not harsh) measures for bad, as well as environmental modification and potential time-sharing. It's quite a deal.

One of the things you lack is sufficient environmental stimulation (play, outdoor time and intellectual challenge). The same probably goes for the rest of the gang. And this is critical because it would allow each of you to work off the tension and arousal that goes with living together. Have a look at the page at the top of my blog titled, Interactive Play Therapy.

Before Herself collapses in a heap at the thought of daily individual play sessions ad infinitum, let me assure you that there are other ways to keep all of your occupied, many of which would not necessarily require her participation. One is trying out the many games and puzzles mentioned in that recently-reviewed book, Playtime for Cats (see my previous blog entry). Another is consideration of a cat fence and/or cat enclosure so you can enjoy the outdoors (weather permitting). There are many things to take into consideration before your deal with a fence or enclosure; we'd need to discuss this further to make sure Herself didn't spend money on something that has little chance of working. Besides, as a Sphynx you need to take particular care of going out: cold weather is so not for you; but also sunshine can give you sunburn because you don't have a fur coat! But before you look to the yard to resolve some of the problem, we need to do some indoor work (that intervention work I mentioned before).

Now about your purrsonality . . . 

You also mention that you are hissy and growly by nature. And that you are volatile. You tolerate affection and attention but only to a point and then enough is more than enough. This is somewhat different than what is said about your breed according to The Sphynx Cat Club (UK) : intelligent (of course), affectionate (yes), and very sociable (?) - not so much, it seems. Hate being alone (yes). Loves to play (yes). Loves children and other pets (not so). Thrives on attention (of course). Similarly the Traditional Cat Association describes your breed as being exceptionally able to adapt to your purrsons' requirements, exuding love and devotion to your chosen folks. This site goes on to state that you thrive in the company of people, dogs and other cats. My goodness, that do NOT sound like you, Felice!

So I wonder . . . Were you properly socialized before adoption? And possibly as importantly, did you live with other cats before you moved into your current household? And if this household was new to you (meaning that you didn't know Rufus, etc. before), how measured and slow was your introduction process to them? I wonder if you and Rufus never got off on the right paw and the problem has just grown over time - masked by the presence or absence of others? And then, with that other son's cat invading as well, if you never quite got a change to feel stable in the household?

My related concern is that 1) you may be in pain (possibly of the chronic variety related to your injury, that makes you somewhat timid and testy), and/or 2) you have felt threatened (and afraid) for some time and thus 3) are anxious. For this reason, I believe that the first step in sorting all of this out is a trip to the vet. 

If there is a cats-only vet in your area, it would be prefurrable because such vets probably have more experience with your situation. And one that is cats-only and has an interest or speciality in behaviour problems would be ideal. Okay, you can stop laughing now: You're right. There is usually a difference between ideal and reality. So let me get real.

You need a vet examination by a vet you trust. Your vet needs to determine whether or not there is any residual pain from your injury that makes you even more touchy or fearful - even if you seem to be able to jump well. If so, modest pain management (read, medication) may be in order. AND if this is NOT the case and/or if pain meds don't resolve your hiss/growl purrsonality, then consideration should be given to anti-anxiety medication. You can also have a look at the Touch Therapy page at the top of my blog, as a potential adjunct. Because I think fear/anxiety may be a large part of the equation here and we need to calm you down so that you can learn other ways to handle the situation.

Now for option two: Leave. Re-homing may be a viable option but again, it will depend on the new home. Given what you have told me, you may be best off as an only-cat purrhaps with a well-behaved dog to keep in line, and definitely with purrsons who have the time and interest to spend generous amounts of time with you and who are committed to providing your forever home. Obviously they have to be people YOU like. Potential access to your beloved college guy would be a plus.

But before you can figure out which option to take, I suggest a trip to the vet is in order. Meanwhile answer those questions I have for you and I can outline your 'stay' option in much more detail.

And by the way, you may also want to contact a reputable Sphynx breeder for further advice. Your vet may be able to suggest such a purrson.

I wish you the best,